The thin spread of straw Brigid sat upon did little to keep her warm. Wind howled outside as a raging storm beat against the battlements of the asylum. The screams, she was now used to after a week locked inside the small cell. The solitude, she was not.
Shackled still, her arms encircled her knees, and she rested her cheek against the bony protuberance. Her deep blue eyes stared at her food tray, small smile gracing her lips as the tiny mouse nibbled at her bread. He’d been her only companion, thus far. If they thought solitary confinement would send her to the depths of her own hell, they were so very wrong. Solitude was all Brigid had ever wanted. To be alone was to be safe.
She was, however, freezing, her feet black from grime, her shift stained a muddy brown and torn in places. She felt herself thinning with each passing day, but she refused to eat. There was nothing else within the cell with which to end her life, so she’d done the only thing she could. She was resigned to her death—happy about it, even, because it meant her ultimate freedom from this misery. She’d been tossed from one evil to another, and she began to wonder if God was punishing her for some unknown wrong-doing.
She knew not what would have been so blasphemous to warrant such a horrible, violent life. But during her time alone, she had come to terms with it, said her goodbyes to her family in her heart. She’d locked away all her fantasies about a different life, for that was her one weakness; to wish with all she had that someone could have saved her, could have shown her a love unknown.
Sighing, she smiled at the little, grey mouse, his whiskers twitching as his beady eyes gazed back. As if to say thank you, he ran closer to where she sat, before halting and promptly cleaning his whiskers and paws. The storm outside continued to rage as deranged laughter seeped through the stone walls.
“I’ll not stand for it!” The Duke yelled, cutting off his wife’s sorry pleas. She lay in a heap on the floor, wearing her torn dress still, but it was now adorned with a striking red handprint across her cheek.
The Duke had seen through the charade rather quickly; he knew of his wife’s desires for the Norwegian man, but he’d never once fallen prey to her charms. Why, then, would he rape her? His wife was spoiled and rather dull, and he’d now lost his best guard because of her selfish ways.
“Get out of my sight.” He spat. Blubbering and shaking, the Duchess stood and fled. The Duke sat, gripping his glass of brandy and downing it, before reaching for the decanter and refilling his cup.
“Bring him in,” he said, staring into the leaping flames. His meeting with his counterpart John Law would have to be postponed, but he doubted Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital would mind an even later night visit. The Duke shuddered at the very thought of Doctor Moreau, for the serpent-like man repulsed him, and he’d grown to detest the place with its wailing, cackling inhabitants.
If Law’s plan was to work, however, they’d need an ample amount of women healthy enough for travel-by-sea, and they’d need to be of child-bearing age. How else would they populate the expanse of their colony, the Duke’s most prized investment? How else could they keep this ship from sinking?
No one from Paris had been tempted by the promise of land and gold, as much as they’d tried to entice them. This solution would work two-fold; cleanse Parisian prisons and hospitals, and stimulate their colony’s economy. It was a gamble, but one the Duke had to take.
Broken from his thoughts, his head snapped up. Erik stood, stoic as ever, awaiting his fate. The Duke sighed, knocking back the remainder of his brandy.
“I must dismiss you from my employ, as regretful as I am by that. I apologize, however, for the actions of my wife. Our marriage was political, at best, and I’ve turned a blind eye to her spoiled tendencies for some time.”
Erik was stunned into silence. He’d thought for certain he’d be carted away and locked in the Bastille, for his status was lower than that of a high-class woman, and his word meant far less than hers. This was better than he could have hoped for, and the perfect excuse to return home with Anna.
He nodded, wondering at what he should say.
The Duke raised his empty glass to him.
“I’ve instructed the rest of this month’s payment to be given to you, in order that you keep your discretion pertaining to this incident and any other political talk you may have heard.”
Again, Erik was stunned.
“Thank you, for everything.” He said. The Duke sighed.
“I’ll be sad to see you go, but I’ve no doubt you’ll find more work, strong and capable as you are.”
Erik smirked a bit.
“I would desire to stay in Paris, but I must admit, I miss home.”
The Duke offered a small smile.
“A notion true for any man who’s travelled as much as you have. You’ll always have a friend in Paris, should you ever wish to return.”
Erik smiled, his turn of good fortune giving him a lightness in his chest he’d not had for some time. He could return home with Anna, find a suitable wife and some land, and finally settle down.
Smile still stuck to his face, he left the Duke’s manor and set his sights on home.
Law held a dainty white handkerchief to his nose to better stifle the putrid smells of the hospital. What a horrid place this was, stuffed to the brim with the insane and the destitute, to the point of overflowing. He waited outside the entrance to the hallway filled with single-person cells. He wondered how many women would be crammed together in each one.
Doctor Moreau hummed a quiet tune, bouncing on his heals as they awaited the Duke’s arrival. Law checked his pocket-watch again. Only a minute had passed, but it felt like an hour in this place.
Doctor Moreau was in unusually good spirits this evening, knowing he’d be freeing up some space to take in more test subjects. He was currently bored of the ones he had, save for that dark haired Irish woman. She’d been starving herself for a week, but had shown no other signs of decay. Fascinating. He began to drum his fingers on his thigh, itching to induce some pain upon the girl and figure out what would push her over the precipice of sanity.
“Ahh! Good Lord, friend, what held ye up?” Law called as the Duke emerged from the darkness, shaking his head.
“That damnable wife of mine cost me my guard,” he growled, tugging off his riding gloves. Law was surprised he’d chosen horseback over a carriage, but noted the bit of cloth around his neck used for concealing his identity.
“Oh, dear, sorry to hear that. Shall we press on?” Law suggested, already turning to the door. The Duke huffed a breath of exertion but nodded, understanding his friend wanted to be free of this place. He detested it just as much.
“We’ve plenty of sound women, my lords, perfect for your needs,” Doctor Moreau began, but the Duke held up his hand.
“Thank you, good Doctor, but we want no other input on this matter. Simply let us view each one, and we will speak to them privately afterwards.”
The Doctor’s eyes bulged, hot anger flashing through his veins. These were his women, not theirs, even if they were willing to pay a stiff price to procure them. As it was, he had no choice in the matter; the Duke d’Orleans could have him jailed in a heartbeat, if he discovered any number of the illegal practices done here.
“Why yes, of course,” he said, giving a watery smile, his lips moist as ever. Law went first, stepping into the hall and pointing to the door on the left. One of the Doctor’s henchman opened it, revealing three battered, hairless women, who shrank from the light of the torch, eyes wide with fear.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” The Duke whispered to Law, who’s face was ashen as a fresh fallen snow. He’d never expected to see humans in such dank conditions. A part of him felt a tug of empathy, and his mission to save the colony now had a two-fold purpose; to give these poor beings a second chance at life.